Clarion Books, 2001
Ages 9 and up
“Park (Seesaw Girl) molds a moving tribute to perseverance and creativity in this finely etched novel set in mid- to late-12th-century Korea. In Ch'ul'po, a potter's village, Crane-man (so called because of one shriveled leg) raises 10-year-old orphan Tree-Ear (named for a mushroom that grows ‘without benefit of parent-seed’). Though the pair reside under a bridge, surviving on cast-off rubbish and fallen grains of rice, they believe ‘stealing and begging ... made a man no better than a dog.’ From afar, Tree-Ear admires the work of the potters until he accidentally destroys a piece by Min, the most talented of the town’s craftsmen, and pays his debt in servitude for nine days. Park convincingly conveys how a community of artists works (chopping wood for a communal kiln, cutting clay to be thrown, etc.) and effectively builds the relationships between characters through their actions (e.g., Tree-Ear hides half his lunch each day for Crane-man, and Min's soft-hearted wife surreptitiously fills the bowl). She charts Tree-Ear's transformation from apprentice to artist and portrays his selflessness during a pilgrimage to Songdo to show Min's work to the royal court—he faithfully continues even after robbers shatter the work and he has only a single shard to show. Readers will not soon forget these characters or their sacrifices.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A homeless boy in a 12th-century Korean village makes himself surprisingly useful to a master potter. Tree-ear has been living with Crane-man under a bridge, scavenging for food and comfort until one day he watches Min, the potter, becoming so fascinated he later creeps back to look at the finished pots. Surprised in the act, one of the pots is broken and Tree-ear must work to pay for the damage. The work is strenuous. Tree-ear aches and bleeds, but gradually he becomes accustomed to the work. Min allows him to continue to help in exchange for food from the master's kind wife. It is in the details that the story lays claim to a sort of Zen quality. Ethical decisions regarding acceptance of lunch and his responsibility to Crane-man are decided with fastidiousness and rectitude. Each choice of Tree-ear's shows an awareness of pride and dignity—not just for himself, but for Crane-man, Min, and his wife. Obtaining a royal commission to make pots worthy of the palace is at the heart of the plot. Intrigues, danger, and the same strong focus on doing what is right turn a simple story into a compelling read. Important details of the times are folded into the narrative without being obtrusive. Tree-ear's story conveys a time and place far away and long ago, but with a simplicity and immediacy that is both graceful and unpretentious. A timeless jewel.” —Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“In 12th century Korea, young Tree-Ear is an orphan living with elderly Crane-Man. Crane-Man, too, is an outcast, but the two of them share a close and loving bond. Ch'ulp'o, where they live, is a village known throughout Korea and beyond for the lovely Celadon green glaze of the pottery created there. Tree-Ear is fascinated by pottery making, especially the work of potter Min, the finest in the village. When Tree-Ear accidentally breaks one of Min's creations, he goes to work for Min to compensate the potter for his loss. Once the debt is paid, Tree-Ear continues working for the gruff and taciturn Min, hoping that he will eventually get a chance to create something at the potter's wheel. In the meantime, he takes every opportunity he can to learn, and experiences startling and wonderfully evoked moments of deeper understanding of the mysteries of the art. He also shares the benefits of his work, such as the daily meal provided by Min's kind wife, with Crane-Man. A visit from the royal emissary, who has the power to assign coveted pottery commissions, ultimately has life-changing implications for Tree-Ear in Linda Sue Park's hard-to-put-down and highly appealing novel. An author's note provides additional historical information on the creation of Celadon pottery in Korea.” —Cooperative Children's Book Center
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